Brexit secretary: EU, UK share common purpose

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay has said the UK and European Union (EU) share a “common purpose” in reaching a new withdrawal deal, after a meeting in Brussels with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

He said they had had “serious detailed discussions” and things were “moving forward with momentum”.

Mr Barnier said it had been a “cordial” meeting, but “lots of work has to be done in the next few days”.

The deadline for the UK to exit the EU is October 31.

On Thursday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said a new Brexit deal could still be reached by then.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said some “progress” was being made, although it was important not to “exaggerate” this.

But Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told the BBC on Friday that there was a “wide gap” between the UK and the EU, with Brussels “still waiting for serious proposals” from London.

The backstop – the policy aimed at preventing the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit – has proved the biggest point of contention in EU-UK talks so far.

It was a major sticking point in former Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to get Parliament to back her withdrawal agreement, which was rejected three times by Members of Parliament (MPs).

Amid the white noise of Brexit, there has only ever been one question that really matters: is there any sign that things might be about to change?

Meetings get excitedly talked up in advance (I plead guilty). Anodyne statements follow shortly afterwards.

In short, the EU says the UK has not yet provided enough detail on a plan to replace the so-called backstop, to keep the border on the island of Ireland open under all circumstances.

The UK says it is dreaming up all sorts of ideas.

So what happens next? New York. A shindig at the United Nations next week – and with it the chance for the prime minister to have one-on-one chats with the likes of President Macron of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany.

Could they provide the oomph needed to knock together a deal?

It still looks less likely than likely, but who knows? -BBC

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